This weeks fabulous guest blogger is the lovely Gudrun Willcocks, she is a fashion journalist based in Sydney. Gudrun has contributed to Style.com, Chinese Vogue, Australian Vogue and the academic publication, Vestoj amongst others. Gudrun is particularly interested in the psychology of fashion, the progression of ethics within the luxury sector of design and hemlines.
Victoria’s Secret is the most successful lingerie company in the world but is their ideology an inspiration or a recipe for insanity? Gudrun Willcocks finds out.
So here’s the truth: I am obsessed with the brand Victoria’s Secret. Not the underwear itself (Too bling for my liking), but the company, the business, the vision and of course, the models.
For me, catching up on Alessandra Ambrosio’s most recent mothering feats is a pastime I take great pleasure in. Articulating aspects of Doutzen Kroes’ method for keeping in shape is a daily ritual. And Miranda Kerr? Well, what can’t she do?
So, when I was asked to write this story on lingerie and empowerment the first thing that came to mind was their Diamond studded bra. Waltzing down the 2011 catwalk on Kerr’s post-pregnant bust, it was to me, a glowing metaphor for women’s modern-day emancipation.
However, is it? Is a model body, an angelic face and a diamond-studded anything really the full articulation of a woman’s spirit? Or is it just, as research suggests, another form of oppression? The model’s struts and cheeky grins ‘signal’ that they have a well-formed embracement of their assets, but how close to the truth is this? And furthermore, is it the lingerie or the ideal: the husbands, the glamour and the hundreds of hours of gym training and no-carb diets that have women hooked? Victoria’s Secret is after all, the most successful brand in the world.
Naturally, I revert to my friends on the issue and all aspects considered; it seems the company have a winning formula. Between a group of fifteen, thirty to fifty-something mothers and entrepreneurs, almost all felt better in stylish or sexy lingerie, many reporting it made them feel better, not just their significant other. Several described the show as “inspiring’ or ‘alluring’ – though some admitted it was ‘fantasy’ orientated – and most would buy the brand it if it was readily in Australia. Only three heavily criticized it.
Criticism, none-the-less, is what the statistics support. “It’s a certain form of sexual power that does not express real power. I don’t think it’s empowering ” said one veteran businesswoman: a point of view supported by the University of Mary Washington’s 2011 study into the links between women’s sexuality and their self esteem.
In the UMW’s study, a team of psychologists set out to discern whether women felt more ennobled or afflicted by their identification with a sexualized image. The results revealed that women who enjoy sexualisation – this includes sexy get-up and suggestive clothing – are more likely to agree with a sexist view of women and more inclined to agree with traditional female values such as ‘there are many jobs in which men should be given preference over women’ and ‘women should be protected by men’. In addition, women who reported they ‘enjoy the positive attention of men for their appearance’ are also more likely to view their bodies as ‘objects’ and thus, worry when their appearance does not measure up to a standard of female beauty.
So what is the answer? Does this mean that we have to burn out lacey bras and knickers again? Just when it seems we have made enough progress that these extremes are no longer necessary? If I were a hardcore femininst, perhaps I would make a stand. As a fifty something woman commented to me on the street “we fought hard for our place in the boardroom and now my daughter is obsessed with a company – Victoria’s Secret – that is all about masculine ideals of beauty, again. It scares me”.
However, I’m not. Despite my ambition for women to grow in leaps and bounds, I don’t feel we need forgo aesthetics under all circumstances just to make a counter-argument. At the end of the day, I think fashion is for function, formality, and to help you feel fabulous. If a lacey pair of knickers ticks all of the above, then I’m in but I would also say the same for something more minimalist. Life can be for enjoyment and ideologies, I say.